HIV-positive airmen are fighting the government to stay in the Air Force in a landmark case
Two HIV-positive US Air Force members have filed a lawsuit after they were discharged following their diagnoses in 2017.
The lawsuit, which was filed by Lambda Legal in December 2018, identified the men using pseudonyms of Richard Roe and Victor Voe, ABC News reports.
The men are arguing that they were unfairly dismissed following their diagnoses despite the fact that there is no protocol in the Air Force for such measures. The lawsuit also argues that their dismissal is unconstitutional and is based on outdated science that fails to consider the existence of HIV-medication.
Dismissal of HIV-positive men is out of step with science, lawsuit argues.
While there is currently a policy in place that prohibits HIV-positive people from signing up to the military or armed forces, there is no such policy for service members who are diagnosed while serving. In fact, the Air Force has a policy that prohibits the dismissal of service members solely on the basis of their HIV status.
The two men claimed their first victory in January when a federal appeals court upheld an injunction which will allow the case to proceed. The injunction means that the military will be banned from discharging the men while the lawsuit is pending.
In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel said the Air Force had failed to consider “current HIV treatments and transmission risks” when it decided to discharge the men.
This is a major victory, but there is more fight ahead.
Bizarrely, the military has argued against the lawsuit by claiming that the men could pose a risk to other service members on the battlefield if they came into contact with the men’s blood. The argument fails to take into consideration the fact that antiretroviral medication makes the HIV virus undetectable and untransmittable.
“Members of the US Armed Forces embody the best of the American spirit,” the lawsuit read.
“They serve and defend us for love of country and community. Our military treats service members’ wounds and illnesses, and, when able, they continue to serve.
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“Service members with HIV, however, do not enjoy the same treatment. Asymptomatic HIV has been diagnosed in a significant number of active-duty service members.”
The Air Force has argued that there are ‘potential complications’ of allowing the men to serve.
The Air Force said that there were potential medical complications to allowing the men to serve, and said they would be “unable to reasonably perform” their duties, according to court papers.
They said that their HIV status would prevent them from being deployed to the US Central Command area of responsibility.
“This is a major victory, but there is more fight ahead,” said Scott Schoettes, counsel and HIV project director at Lambda Legal.
“Our adversary in this case is the military itself and its current leadership, which seems not to be willing to actually accept or grapple with what these changes in the medicine mean for people living with HIV and their ability to serve.”